I just returned from the Planning Commission meeting. The PC recommended against rezoning the land behind the shopping center on a 4-2 vote. Cheryl Graham and Van Bunch were absent and Guy Beaty recused himself due to personal connections with the case.
I confess to having been quite surprised by this. The motion to deny was made by Annette Allen and seconded by Bill Lusk. This is particularly surprising considering that this council had been so aggressive in promoting commercial development. Just a year ago there was great enthusiasm by Ms. Allen and Robertson in particular for selling town property for commercial development. I also know that Bill Lusk has recently been buying some commercial property in the town (but not in the shopping center involved). He stated he wanted more time to talk with surrounding neighbors and walk the property even though the request was original presented in, I believe October if memory serves. I'm not sure what more he wanted to learn. He also said he talked with a large number of business owners and has been unable to find any of them who support this. I would be curious to know if any business owners reading this talked with him and what their reasons were for opposing it.
The projected tax benefits to the town from this development are projected to be on the order of $300,000 per year. I certainly agree with concerns about the surrounding property owners potentially affected by this, although only a few would actually be directly affected. Approximately half the property would be preserved as potential open space (I would certainly look for guarantees such as conservation easements for this). Since this area is currently zoned residential, that protection is not guaranteed at present and I'm sure that any potential residential development would try to maximize use of all the property. I'm also just as sure that the property owners will not be content to let the property stay undeveloped and the town cannot prohibit any development on this property.
After hearing the presentation tonight, I would certainly lean towards supporting this rezoning, but would like to look at ways to maximize protection of surrounding property owners, perhaps through wider buffers or berms or other options. I fear that the town is losing one of the only potential sources of new revenues considering the strong opposition to future residential growth and the difficulty of annexation (and the possibility that the state may make annexation even harder). Planning Commission member Wayne Williams made an eloquent statement on this point. Our budgets are getting tighter and the demands are getting greater.
As an example, the sidewalk proposed for James Blvd, while mostly funded with federal tax dollars, will also require about $50,000 in town contributions. Frankly, I begin to wonder if we can afford this. The MACC will require a substantial sum to repair the roof just to get it opened for business again and we need to make some major repairs to the gym roof. We need a new public works building desperately and, should the annexation go through, will probably need to build a new fire station on Shackleford Ridge Road (though we have some money set aside for that).
Folks, it is getting to be time to make some decisions. We all want more services and sidewalks and want to add more parks and preserve our open spaces (certainly things I support), but we are going to need to pay for it. Our revenues from the Hall Income Tax (on investments) have decreased with the problems on Wall Street and property taxes are really about all we have to go on. I fear we are trying to have our cake and eat it, too and I fear that our chickens will soon be coming home to roost (hey, is there a market for mixed metaphors??).